Colombia peace talks drag on
It was a year ago today. Left-wing FARC rebels negotiators and their government counterparts met for the first time publicly in Norway.
It was a photo opportunity to announce the beginning of peace talks a month later in the Cuban capital, Havana, which promised to bring to an end the longest running conflict in South America.
Hopes ran high internationally, and even inside Colombia, a usually wary public seemed to support the process.
While Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos decided to bet his political legacy on an agreement.
A year later, negotiators have little progress to show. Of the six points of the agenda they reached a partial agreement only on the first, rural development and land reform. Since then they have been untangled into thorny discussion on how to assure FARC’s participation in the country’s legal politics.
Back home, polls show the population is tiring of the talks. And President Santos is feeling he is losing ground right before he is expected to announce he will run for re-election in November. Congressional elections are due in March, followed by the Presidential contest in May.
Santos has been losing popularity following nationwide farmer’s protests last month and has been trying to recover ever since; while suffering continues attacks from his predecessor, former President Alvaro Uribe, who opposes the talks.
Pause in the negotiations
In this uncertainty, he has floated the idea of a pause in the negotiations until elections are over, and sent 50,000 troops into the rebel strongholds to put more pressure militarily.
But most analysts believe he should think again. A pause in the talks will not hide the peace process from the next election cycle.
And while real announcements of agreements have been rare, people close to the talks say that on the sidelines progress has been made on the other issues on the agenda, including punishment the rebels will face, reparations for the victims, and how to address the drug trade.
The FARC announced they have agreed on the first 25 pages of the final agreement. The public though needs to get some good news that could renew hope soon.
The problem for Santos is he is the one who needs to be re-elected. FARC have resisted 50 years and they seem in no hurry to bring Colombia’s bloodshed to an end.